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Sensational pitching was not enough to propel the Greenfield School varsity baseball team into its first North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association 1-A state championship series since winning the title in 2015.
Right-handers Dane Reynolds, a freshman, and sophomore Justin Holland allowed but three hits and two unearned runs, but the Knights’ two errors were damaging and their offense barely existed — enabling underdog Albemarle Academy to spill Greenfield 2-0 in the seminfals Tuesday night in Fleming Stadium.
The No. 2-seeded Knights, Coastal Plain Independents Conference champions, failed to hit a ball out of the infield and their only hit was a bunt single by junior right fielder Zeke Ferrell in the second inning.
Starting Colts right-hander Cole Langley, a freshman, worked the first five innings, allowing the hit and three walks while striking out six. Right-hander Tanner Simpson, a junior, pitched two hitless innings, walking two and striking out four in notching the save. Langley earned the win.
Albemarle, the No. 6 seed and the fourth-place finisher in the Coastal Plains Independents Conference, boosted its record to 8-6 and travels to Kerr-Vance Academy for the best-of-three championship series Friday and Saturday. No. 1 Kerr-Vance thumped Lawrence Academy, 11-0, in Tuesday’s other semifinal.
“We just didn’t hit,” said head coach Daniel Johnson, whose Knights finished 14-7. “Their pitchers competed and we did not put any pressure on them.”
Johnson noted Albemarle’s pitchers, especially Langley, were not overpowering, and was at a loss to explain why his batters were unsuccessful against them.
“They hit their spots,” explained pleased Albemarle head coach Jeff Simpson. “We (coaches) call every pitch and, when they hit their spots, it makes all the difference in the world.”
Greenfield’s only semblance of a threat occurred in the bottom of fifth. Ferrrell and eighth-grade second baseman Matt Kirby drew two-out walks against Langley. However, sophomore center fielder Justin Holland grounded out after Langley had thrown nine consecutive pitches for balls.
“It comes down to base hits,” reasoned Greenfield senior designated hitter Patrick Smith. “We didn’t show up at the plate — that’s about what it amounts to. Why we couldn’t them might have been nerves on our side.”
Ablemarle sophomore center fielder Logan Dunn opened the game with a single, was sacrificed to second base and scored on a two-outs error.
In the third, Dunn worked Reynolds for a two-outs walk, was again sacrificed to second by left fielder Keith Lane. On the play, Dunn scampered home from second, rounding third base when Greenfield first baseman Nathan Woodard threw to an unoccupied base.
“With the injuries we’ve had, we’ve had to play a lot of small ball,” Coach Simpson said. “Teams are not ready for that. When we scored the second run, I run that play all the time. I learned that play from my coach a long time ago and I have never stopped using it.”
The Colts earned the right to oppose Greenfield by upsetting the No. 3 seed in the quarterfinals.
“We are a sleeping No. 6 seed,” Coach Simpson gleefully observed. “We have been banged up all season. This is the healthiest we have been since the first game. We fully expected to come here and play the way we did.”
Albemarle’s coach proudly pointed his Colts triumphed because the game plan worked.
“The game plan was to pitch (Langley) the first five innings and to pitch my son (Tanner Simpson) the last two innings. Now, we are in perfect shape for the state-championship series.”
Greenfield careers ended for seniors Smith, Ty Weatherford and Luke Flaherty.
“It is a little bit stunning,” Smith acknowledged. “Everybody battled and did their part for the most part. But it’s about getting hits and playing defense. It ended up not being enough.”
Added Johnson: “We don’t generate a ton of offense and we can’t make mistakes. Still, you’ve got to be to be able to hit the ball. It was not a lack of effort and not being focused. We just didn’t get it done.”
However, Johnson reminded the Knights won 14 games in 2019 after managing just six each of the previous two seasons.
“It’s a big turnaround,” he assured. “We’ve just got to go back to work and get back here again.”
Score by innings:
Albemarle 101 000 0 — 2
Greenfield 000 000 0 — 0
WP-Cole Langley 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 6 SO. LP-Dane Reynolds 4 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 0 Er, 2 Bb, 4 SO S- Tanner Simpson 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Albemarle: Logan Dunn 2-2, R; Raymond Hooper 1-3; Greenfield: Zeke Ferrell 1-2.